Paid Family Leave Finds an Unlikely Ally: Investors

Shareholder resolutions could turn up the heat on American companies to offer more robust and equitable leave policies.

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Photo: Shutterstock / Monkey Business Images
Media Outlet: Slate

Rebecca Gale wrote for Slate about a group of Boston-based socially responsible investment firms that led a campaign for family leave through an unusual tool: shareholder resolutions. This story is part of the RiseLocal project of the National Network.

In 2017, Starbucks made headlines with its unequal paid family leave policy. Baristas got one set of benefits, and corporate staff got another. Within the benefits offered to baristas (those who “wear an apron”), moms who gave birth got six weeks of paid family leave. Dads or adoptive parents: zero.

Starbucks, long known for its culture of empowering “partners” (as their employees are all called), received a barrage of frustrated employee feedback. Stories about pregnant baristas who wouldn’t get time off or LGBT couples who were shocked that Starbucks would offer generous health insurance to pay for gender reassignment surgery but not give them a few paid weeks if they had a new baby led to sit-down, private meetings with the company’s global head of benefits. Yet the policy remained unchanged.

Then one day in October, a group of investors who collectively owned $2.4 million in Starbucks shares, filed the first-ever shareholder proposal on paid family leave. They were led by a small number of socially responsible investing firms based in Boston. The resolution stated that Starbucks had fallen behind leading companies such as Amazon, Nordstrom, and Ikea, “which have more equal approaches [on paid family leave],” and that investors would like clarity on how Starbucks addresses these challenges, “including the risk of employment discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, LGBTQ status, parental status, and/or work status.”